The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan


Ronald Reagan's legacy must include his influence in bringing down the Berlin Wall, the re-unification of Germany and the end to the Cold War with the Soviet Union.  The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan by James Mann, a former foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, documents the President's ability to stick by his instincts, even though his "experts" were always skittish.

Mann also does an admirable job of giving the reader an inside look at how foreign policy was conducted between Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, sometimes using an American author as an informal intermediary. This drove the State Department crazy, but Reagan liked Suzanne Massie's books and her take on what was happening inside the Soviet Union. His relationship with Massie and the extent of her influence were certainly extraordinary.

What I enjoyed most about The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan is how it delves into Reagan's knack for reading people and seeing things that others in his sphere couldn't fathom. The hawkish members of his administration had no faith in Gorbachev being any different than the Soviet leaders before him and they always argued a hard line, as did former president Richard Nixon.

Reagan, however, could see that Gorbachev was different and he began to ease off his "evil empire" rhetoric and worked with the Soviet leader. Reagan wasn't an academic or foreign policy specialist, but he understood people. He used stories to communicate, often unsuccessfully. But the guy was not called the "Great Communicator" for nothing. Nevertheless, Mann gives Mikhail Gorbachev most of the credit for the Cold War's end.

"Unquestionably, Gorbachev played the leading role in bringing the four-decade-old conflict to a close. Yet Reagan, overcoming considerable opposition of his own at home, played  a crucial role by buttressing Gorbachev's political position," Mann concludes in his book. 

Another aspect of the book I loved were interviews in recent years with Gorbachev, East German leaders, foreign policy specialists from the Reagan Administration and others who were directly involved in this drama. These interviews provided rich context for understanding what had transpired and who deserved the credit for the successes.

 The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan worked for me because it was so smartly written in a journalistic, easy-to-read, even-handed style. It does not come off as a boring text book, despite its heavy content. In presenting this narrative, President Reagan is neither glorified nor crucified, so he emerges as a very human figure who was in the right chair at the right time, at least when it came to US-Soviet relations.

Posted on October 8, 2013 .